NBN Co kills 100-Mbps fixed wireless plan because it’s too expensive

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File photo: NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow. Image credit: NBN Co

ITEM: Australia’s NBN Co has backed off from its promise to provide fixed-wireless customers with maximum connection speeds of 100 Mbps because it’s just too expensive.

According to ABC, NBN Co told Parliament in January this year that it planned to roll out fixed-wireless to 600,000+ customers across Australia, and that half of them would be able to get connection speeds maxing out at 100 Mbps. But last Thursday, outgoing NBN Co chief Bill Morrow told a Senate Estimates committee that the company had scrapped the idea:

“The economics … [start] to actually break apart to a point where it doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

“It would just never happen.” […]

“There is no economic model that would work … [especially when] it’s hard to find applications that warrant the need for 100 Mbps”.

Morrow also said that it wouldn’t be possible to consistently maintain 100-Mbps speeds during peak hours if – for example – lots of users started streaming video all at once.

Indeed, NBN Co’s current fixed-wireless performance is nowhere close to 100 Mbps, or even the 50 Mbps the company is required to provide for fixed-line connections.

Last month, NBN Co reported that during “busy hours”, only 46% of its fixed-wireless cells were capable of delivering speeds above 25 Mbps on average. Around 29% of cells deliver only 12-25 Mbps on average, while the remainder deliver speeds below that, with some supporting speeds as low as 3 Mbps.

According to IT News, the customer experience is much worse, with Aussie Broadband conducting speed tests on its users and concluding that its 25-Mbps and 50-Mbps users were actually getting speeds about half of what they were paying for, and that the only time they were likely to get anywhere close to 25 Mbps or 5o Mbps was between 2am and 5am.

Earlier this month, Morrow blamed the slow speeds on the fixed wireless service being too popular to the point that usage quickly outstripped the capacity design of the towers.

NBN Co’s fixed-wireless network uses TD-LTE technology in the 2.3 GHz and 3.5 GHz bands using equipment from Ericsson. Three years ago, NBN Co and Ericsson conducted a trial of TD-LTE using the 3.5 GHz band and achieved data speeds of 1 Gbps.

NBN Co and Ericsson are currently trialing 5G NR on 3.5 GHz, which could help the company boost fixed wireless speeds considerably. In fact, fixed wireless is already being touted as one of the initial use cases for 5G in other markets.

Ironically, last month the ACCC expressed concern that the rollout of 5G by Australia’s mobile operators could actually wreck NBN Co’s business model, as 5G could enable connections speeds superior to the NBN and convince users to cut the cord and stick exclusively with mobile broadband.

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